Facebook, Google, Snapchat To Strengthen Encryption Protections
By Shirley Siluk / CIO Today. Updated March 14, 2016.
As Apple prepares to face the U.S. government in court next week regarding the Federal Bureau of Investigation's efforts to unlock the contents of an iPhone in its possession, other tech companies are reportedly looking to beef up their encryption offerings.
Facebook, Google and Snapchat are all working on new privacy and security enhancements for their users, according to a report published today in The Guardian. Facebook-owned WhatsApp also plans to offer encrypted voice calling as well as encrypted messaging, the article stated.
Meanwhile, WhatsApp could soon be facing a court challenge similar to Apple's, The New York Times reported yesterday. The U.S. Department of Justice has obtained a wiretap order to access real-time communications of a WhatsApp user as part of a criminal investigation, according to the report. However, the agency would likely need further assistance from WhatsApp to decrypt those communications.
The FBI is seeking to force Apple to write new code to help it unlock content in an iPhone belonging to Syed Rizwan Farook. On December 2, Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, shot and killed 14 people at a holiday party attended by Farook's co-workers in San Bernardino, California. The two were later killed by police. Apple is scheduled for a court hearing on March 22 in its dispute with the FBI.
Actions Back Up Industry's Support for Apple
We contacted Facebook, Google, Open Whisper Systems, which helps WhatsApp provide encrypted text messaging, and the Justice Department but did not receive responses to any of our requests for comment.
According to The Guardian, Facebook-owned WhatsApp plans "within weeks" to begin offering encrypted voice calling as well as encrypted text messaging. It added that Facebook is also looking to enhance security support for its Messenger app. Both Snapchat and Google are also said to be working on ways to strengthen the security of their messaging and e-mail systems.
"The projects could antagonize authorities just as much as Apple's more secure iPhones, which are currently at the center of the San Bernardino shooting investigation," The Guardian stated. "They also indicate the industry may be willing to back up their public support for Apple with concrete action."
A "prolonged standoff" between the Justice Department and WhatsApp could soon boil over into another Apple-like government-tech confrontation, according to yesterday's report in The New York Times.
"Some investigators view the WhatsApp issue as even more significant than the one over locked phones because it goes to the heart of the future of wiretapping," The New York Times reported. "They say the Justice Department should ask a judge to force WhatsApp to help the government get information that has been encrypted."
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy and security advocacy group, yesterday praised both WhatsApp and Facebook for "standing strong in the face of orders . . . to do the impossible or to compromise our security for the sake of enabling click-of-the-mouse surveillance."
As one arm of the government -- the U.S. Department of Justice (the FBI is part of the Justice Department) -- looks for solutions in court, a different approach might be undertaken by the U.S. Congress. Reuters reported last week that Senator Dianne Feinstein (D, California) and Senator Richard Burr (R, North Carolina) could soon introduce proposed legislation that would impose civil penalties on technology companies that don't help the government to unlock encrypted data in investigations.